Brian Duffy photograph of David Bowie as Aladdin Sane gifted to V&A

Piercing green eyes disturb a racing-red lightning bolt. A fire-red mullet is met with an androgynous body. One of the most significant images of British pop culture has been gifted to the Victoria and Albert Museum this week.

Along with David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy made substantial contributions to the developing 1960s fashion aesthetic, tied to the decade’s sexual liberations. The trio of renegade photographers were remembered by Norman Parkinson as ‘The Black Trinity’, but it was Duffy’s work which continued to innovate into the 1970s through an eight-year working relationship with David Bowie. Duffy shot five key sessions over the period, providing the creative concept as well as the photographic image for three album covers, including that of Aladdin Sane. Duffy’s input had a significant influence on the creation of Bowie’s ever transient public image – effecting such changes as the interpretation of Bowie’s original title of ‘A Lad Insane’ as ‘Aladdin Sane’ – and in 2014 Chris Duffy and Kevin Cann co-authored a book chronicling their work together, titled Duffy Bowie: Five Sessions.

The Duffy Archive has presented a print from the seminal 1973 photo session for Aladdin Sane to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2013, the V&A hosted what has come to be its most successful touring show in the Museum’s 165-year history: dedicated to the visual culture surrounding David Bowie’s life and career. In London, the exhibition received over 300,000 visitors, and its tenth iteration at the Brooklyn Museum in New York has seen that figure reach 2 million. The exhibition will close on July 15. Back in 2013, the V&A worked with the Duffy Archive in order to select a previously unpublished image from the Aladdin Sane contact sheet, which would become the lead image for the exhibition. Of the Aladdin Sane cover, Chris Duffy, son of Brian and director of the Duffy Archive, has said that it “is one of the best known and most copied images of the late 20th century. Today, it is instantly recognised around the world.”


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